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Crazy Good Phoenix Food #2

September 23, 2009 by sharper

Crazy Good Phoenix Food #2

THE PARLOR PIZZERIA AND OLD SALON DE VENUS GOSSIP

If you are a Phoenix foodie, and haven’t been to The Parlor Pizzeria, it seems you are in the minority. A recent Google search of The Parlor yielded over 100 reviews of the place, and so it seems lots of people are dining there. Almost all of the reviews are giving big nods to The Parlor for the food, the feel and the fun to be had.

So, even before I step foot into the place, I’m guessing it is a sure thing. Kind of like a glass of wine or a song by The Cult – for God’s sake, who doesn’t love either?

 So, why keep reading?

 Well, if not for the Crazies’ food review of The Parlor, at least keep reading for some really great stories that crop up this week over lunch with these really fun women (check out background on the Crazies – Helen, Ann and Debbi – in the first blog, if you haven’t read about them yet!).

For starters, The Parlor occupies the same building as the former Salon de Venus – an upscale hair salon in its day and the creator of Crazy Debbi’s high-as-the-sky hairdo for her eighth grade graduation in the early 70’s. Over conversation on Deb’s hair, her graduation speech, “Be Somebody,” and her crazy babysitter that launched a memorable lemon meringue pie fight, we have some delectable conversation and try out the food that has lots of people in town talking.

STEPPING INTO THE PARLOR

Truth be told, the Crazies and I have tried The Parlor once before – on a Thursday at noon. When we arrived that day, the parking lot was done-for, the restaurant was fully seated, and we had to wait a good 20 minutes – standing. Us ladies in heels would have at least appreciated a kind offer of water or iced tea while we waited. Oh well. This day, a Tuesday, we arrive at 11:30 to avoid the crowd and are quickly offered a great table by a large window the overlooks a cozy outdoor seating area. Perfect!

This place is really funky and retro inside – and according to Crazy Ann, not much of the architecture of the place has changed from its days as Salon de Venus.

“Most of this is the same,” Ann says, as she surveys the space. “But where the bar and kitchen are now, was, during the 60’s at least, where we used to go to get the FAT rubbed off our bodies,” she says.

“Literally, they rubbed your fat with their knuckles to get rid of your cellulite and then put you in a steam box contraption with just your head sticking out and cooked you!” I’m laughing so hard it hurts, but secretly wonder if it worked. “Well, sure, we wanted to believe it worked. Hell, who knows? We’d have a few drinks after that just to recover and forget all about it! Now, I’m sure it was all just a bunch of hooey.”

ON TO THE MENU

While the menu at The Parlor offers just about something for everyone – a nice expanse of antipasti, salads, sandwiches, pastas, even a kid’s menu – it is the wood-fired pizzas we have decided to make the most of on this visit.

The menu offers signature pizzas and a “worksheet” of sorts, where you can check off your favorite pizza ingredients and concoct your own. Pizzas are offered in 8” sizes ($10) or 12” sizes ($14). We decided to try two of the pizzas straight from the menu, and create two.

Before moving on with our food review, I have to give a shameless plug to Berry Brothers’ Firewood – owned by Ann’s son, it supplies firewood to most of the great food establishments in town, including The Parlor.

So, to start, we decide on the Cauliflower Gratinata ($7), a Caesar salad and Parlor Insalata (both salads are about $6 for the half portion). We submit our pizza orders as well – but more on that later.

While we wait for our first dishes, Debbi dishes about her eighth grade graduation and getting her hair done at the Salon de Venus.

“Mom (Ann) always went to Salon de Venus to get her hair done—big bouffant—and so it was a big deal for me to get my hair done for my graduation,” said Debbi. “These days, I guess young girls get their hair done all the time, but for me, it was really special to go to the salon. And it was a great big hair-do, with my hair teased up to the sky,” she says. “I wore a yellow and white knife-pleat baby-doll dress for my graduation and I thought it sure was something!”

Graduation picture of Debbi

Graduation picture of Debbi

Looking back, she reflects on a photo her mom took of her that day, where she is flanked by her two brothers. “I’m not sure what is funniest about that picture now – my brothers with their shorts practically up to their armpits, or me, with the hair-do that is practically like architecture!”

Debbi goes on, “I was selected to give a graduation speech that year, and I called it, ‘Be Somebody.’” Debbi laughs and adds “but this (pointing to herself) isn’t quite what I had in mind when I wrote that!” We have a big laugh on that.

The cauliflower and salads are served! The cauliflower, roasted with aged white cheddar and a breadcrumb topping, is served piping hot! The Caesar, made of Romaine lettuce hearts, dressing and parmiagano croutons, makes a nice presentation. The Parlor Insalata – mixed greens, feta, olives, crispy chickpeas, salami and nice vinaigrette, is also pretty to see.

First off, as a mom, I can tell you this without a doubt – this cauliflower is sooo crazy good that any mom could get her vegetable-hating kids to eat this stuff and beg for more. It has a great crunchy texture with plenty of gooey cheese sauce. Debbi concurs. “If I wasn’t on such a big diet I would have put the rest of that crazy good cheese sauce on top of my salad!”

Ann thinks the dish is “good but not to-die-for,” adding, “I could make it better, of course.” Inconspicuously, we all kind of roll our eyes to this comment. Helen, who I think is the most reliable and trusted foodie of the bunch, likes the dish a lot, but this day thinks it is a bit watery. All-in-all, we really do like it.

Before we really delve into the salads, Debbi continues to reminisce about her grade school years.

“I loved my home economics class the best,” she says. “Every time we had a school dance, I made a dress in that class to wear.” In particular, she recounts her class fashion show. “I dressed as Nancy Sinatra, with white vinyl boots and a baby-doll dress, just like Nancy wore back in the day,” she says. “I walked the stage to her song, ‘These Boots Were Made For Walking,’ and that’s just what I did – off the stage to everyone clapping!”

On to the salads and a harsh critique from Ann. Foremost, we collectively agree the salads are truly solid and delicious. Helen, Debbi and I really enjoy the Caesar. Ann, however, is quick to disagree with us, stating that “I could get a better Caesar from a bag in the produce section at the grocery store than this one we’ve been served.”

Here, Helen is quick to chastise her older sister, “You only like complicated and overly-flavored food,” she says. “You preferred that Caesar we had a few weeks ago that completely reeked of garlic,” she says. “You must be crazy.” Um, yeah!

The Parlor Insalata seems to be another story – the Crazies are in unison on this one. They adore this salad and say they would order it as a lunch meal on its own.

THE CRAZY BABYSITTER STORY

In between our salads and pizza, Debbi recounts how, as a young girl, her single mom, Ann, was often out on the town, and regularly employed a fine young babysitter by the name of Heather.

“I do remember Debbi’s home-ec teacher saying to me that if she had kids, she would not have Heather as a baby-sitter because she was too wild,” Ann recounts. “But my kids adored her.”

“She was really wild,” says Debbi. “She would always turn the music on real loud and dance when she babysat at our house, and she always danced the ‘dirty dog’ (a popular dance in the 60’s). One time, she put on one of mom’s baby-doll nighties, got on mom’s bed, and danced until she literally threw up – I mean everywhere and all over mom’s nightie.”

“Right, I remember that,” says Ann. “The nightie was red and white, and you kids put that in the washer with hot water to clean it – and everything came out pink!”

Didn’t you get mad at the lot of them, I ask? “Oh, hell no, I didn’t care a bit,” Ann says. “It was a small price to pay to be able to get out a bit, here and there!”

“Then there was the time we had Chicken Delight for dinner and Heather…” Debbi starts in before I interrupt her. What is this Chicken Delight thing– some great new casserole I haven’t made yet?

No, Ann says as she chimes in with a little tune, “Don’t cook tonight, call Chicken Delight,” the jingle to what was apparently a very popular take-out restaurant in the 60’s.

“For about $5, they delivered a chicken dinner and lemon meringue pie right to your house,” Ann remembers. “So I’d have a hot date, right? I’d call Heather to babysit, and Chicken Delight to have dinner delivered to my doorstep.”

“We had Chicken Delight A LOT,” laughs Debbi.

“But this one time after we ate, Heather got the lemon pie, and then just stuck her hand right into the pie, scooped out a big chunk of it, and just plain threw it at us!”

For no reason, I ask?

“For no reason at all. I guess she thought it would be fun to have a pie fight, and we did – each of us throwing pie at the other,” Debbi says. “It was hilarious and it was a mess. We tried to clean it up best we could, but mom could tell something had happened when she got home.”

Ann nods and winks, “I even gave them my left-over lobster I brought home!”

Finally, the pizzas arrive, just in time as our wait for them was wearing a bit on the long-side.

We ordered two of the signature pizzas, the Smokey (smoked prosciutto, olive tapenade, ricotta and arugula) and the Puttanesca (calamari, rock shrimp, spicy tomato sauce, capers, olives and fennel).

Of our own concoctions, we order a pizza (#1 for reference) with sausage, mushroom, bell pepper and arugula, and another one (#2 for reference) with prosciutto, goat cheese, artichokes and arugula.

Never mind any of the toppings we had on our four pizzas, the Crazies agree that the crust on all them was over-the-moon. These are so-expletive-awesome!

The Crazies all agree they would order Puttanesca again and again. As far as the Smokey goes, Debbi thinks it would be great with a glass of wine, which we don’t imbibe at this lunch, most unfortunately!

Helen likes the sausage on #1. It’s from Schreiners Fine Sausage, and they churn out the best sausage in town. We all love this one! Pizza #2 also gets high ratings, especially from me – I adore the combination of goat cheese with anything! And everyone else at the table pretty much loves it too. Though Helen offers that she does not like goat cheese so much, she thinks this combo works.

So, we love the pizzas, but what about dessert? Not that we haven’t stuffed ourselves to the gills…

DESSERT AND ANN’S PINK HAIR

First off, we are all shameless dessert whores, and today will be no different. We order two fabulous desserts.

The Chocolate Cake is served with Italian cherries and vanilla crema. “I’d go back just for a bite of that cake,” Debbi says. “To me, it was heaven with an angel cloud on top!” Helen, nearly a cake authority (she makes—and takes—the cake for every family celebration) thinks the cake is moist with great texture and flavor.

The Tiramisu – made with espresso-soaked lady fingers, mascarpone filling and pine nut brittle sprinkled on top – is bliss, pure and simple. The pine nut brittle on top is genius.

So, the four of us in a food coma – we’ve had a starter, two salads, four pizzas and two desserts between us – wait for our waiter (who, by the way, offered us impeccable service) to bring Ann’s requisite take-home boxes so she can have a few snacks later. I ask Ann if she remembers any of the stylists or clientele from the old Salon.

Ann’s bouffant hair-do, pre-pink!

Ann’s bouffant hair-do, pre-pink!

“Oh, let’s see,” Ann starts in, “there were several hairdressers, as we called them in those days, who were there for a long time, like Rita the glamour puss and Zee, a wild guy from the real old days. There also were lots of movers and shakers around Salon de Venus getting their hair done, wives of biggies from the sports and business worlds. There was one lady I remember in particular, a stuck-up sort from an old department store family in town. I would always make bets as to whether she would speak to me or not. We’d see each other in the salon all the time, but only once in a while did she acknowledge me. You know the kind. Oh well, she was an ugly sourpuss!”

On that note, I ask Ann if her world came tumbling down when Salon de Venus closed its doors.

Helen chimes in, “Well, it was practically a good thing. Her hair had been pink for several years.”

Pink?

“Well, my hairdresser put lots of different colors in my hair to make it look natural, you know?” Ann says. “And she added in some pink. She told me it looked natural so I believed her. So, yes, I guess I was the original Pink!”

Ann’s take-out boxes secured, we head out and I’m not sure which was more delicious this day – the food or the conversation and great company.

The verdict: The Crazies agree The Parlor is a really hip place – quickly becoming, if not already, a see-and-be-seen place – with good food, decent prices and great crowd watching. Go, if you haven’t yet.


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